NEW YORK — NBA Commissioner David Stern canceled the first two weeks of the season Monday, warning players and fans that the cuts may have only just begun.
"With every day that goes by, I think we need to look at further reductions in what's left of the season," said Stern, who doubts a full 82-game season can be played.
Saying he was sad and sorry, Stern erased the season's first two weeks after players and owners were unable to reach a new labor deal to end the lockout. The cancellations mark the NBA's first work stoppage since the 1998-99 season was reduced to 50 games.
"The gap is so significant that we just can't bridge it at this time," Stern said. "We certainly hoped it would never come to this."
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Union president Derek Fisher agreed, emphasizing that missing any games puts the season in jeopardy.
"This is not where we choose to be," he said. "We're not at a place where a fair deal can be reached with the NBA."
With just three weeks remaining before the start of the season, top negotiators for both sides met for more than seven hours Monday but were unable to reach an agreement. The two sides expect to remain in contact, but no additional formal talks have been scheduled.
Stern said both sides are "very far apart on virtually all issues.... We just have a gulf that separates us."
Opening night was scheduled for Nov. 1, and the cancellation includes all games scheduled to be played through Nov. 14. Affected arenas have been authorized to release dates for those dates.
With another work stoppage, the NBA risks alienating a fan base that sent the league's revenues and TV ratings soaring during the 2010-11 season. And the cost of cancellations would be staggering. Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would lose hundreds of millions of dollars, while union executive director Billy Hunter estimated players' losses at $350 million for each month they were locked out.
Now ushers, security personnel, parking lot attendants, concession workers, restaurant employees and others all stand to have their hours cut or join the country's 14 million unemployed. A few teams also have already trimmed their staffs, and more layoffs could be forthcoming.
For the second straight day the sides focused on salary cap system issues instead of the division of revenue split.
Stern said the players still proposed they get 53 percent of revenues, whereas the league proposed they get 47 percent. The two sides had discussed a 50-50 split last week but only in informal discussions.
Both sides stressed it was the system issues, not the revenue split, that turned out to be the larger obstacle Monday.
Stern said he felt the league had made serious concessions on the system — withdrawing its demands for non-guaranteed contracts and what they considered a hard salary cap. Players, however, insisted the league's idea of strengthening the luxury tax would have acted as hard cap, scaring too many teams from spending above the cap level.
"We discussed the system and the system and the system," Stern said. "And we are so far apart. We had a good wrap-up session, but we can't close the gap."